Thursday, February 15, 2007

Daniel C. Peterson(The Mormon Apologist) And John Butler, Being Interviewed by Hugh Hewitt, In Response To The LA Times, Regarding Book of Mormon DNA.

MP3 File

Here is the transcript:

HH: Welcome back America, it’s Hugh Hewitt, Last week, on February 16, to be exact, I opened up not a can of worms, but a can of chromosomes by getting on my program William Lobdell, Los Angeles Times reporter, who that day had a Page 1, above the fold story, Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted: The DNA tests contradict Mormon scripture. The Church says the studies are being twisted to attack its belief. There ensued three wonderful segments of controversy and a mountain of e-mail. So with the help of some Mormons out there, I've located a couple of specialists to come on from the perspective of the Church, and I'm pleased to welcome Dr. Daniel Peterson. He's a native Southern Californian, he got his undergraduate degree in Greek, and philosophy from BYU. He got his PhD from the University of California at Los Angeles. He teaches at BYU now, where he's an associate professor of Islamic studies and Arabic. And he's also a member of the Center For the Preservation of Ancient Religions Texts, CPART, which has produced a computer digitized version of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I'm also joined by Dr. John Butler, who is a project leader at the Human Identity DNA Technologies Group, Biotechnology Division for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. I'm afraid to say anything, gentlemen. I'm going to sound dumb to you two. But welcome Drs. both. Dr. Butler, let me start with you. Obviously, this article in the Los Angeles Times made some assertions about the Mormon's faith connection to DNA. Was it accurately represented, that connection?

JB: Personally, I don't think so, and it's largely because that's the way often things happen in the media, is that we try, the things are tried to be portrayed very simplified. And so, these oversimplifications, sometimes you miss the true story of what's going on.

HH: And let me begin with you, Dr. Daniel Peterson. What does the Book of Mormon state about the population of North America, six hundred years before the birth of Christ?

DP: The Book of Mormon doesn't really talk about North America. We don't know exactly where the Book of Mormon story took place. Most people who study it now think probably in Mesoamerica.

HH: Where is that, for the benefit of people like me?

DP: Mesoamerica would be essentially Central America. We're talking Southern Mexico, Northern Guatemala, probably.

HH: Okay, and who was there, and who's the subject of the Book of Mormon, for people who are not Mormons?

DP: Essentially, there are three migrations that is described in the book. One migration of non-Hebrews, quite early. And then around 600BC, the most important one in terms of the Book of Mormon story, is a small migration of maybe two dozen, three dozen people at the most, who come from Jerusalem, roughly around 600BC, just prior to the Babylonian captivity.

HH: And how did they get here?

DP: How'd they get here? By boat.

HH: All right. And so, from those two dozen, three dozen, how many spring forth in the continents?

DP: Well, the figure at the very end of the Book of Mormon have battles involving, well, for example, 23 units of 10,000. Now whether those are ideal units or not, we don't know. So relatively large population after about a thousand years. We're talking toward the end of the 4th Century AD. But we don't know whether those groups had intermarried with other groups in the course of the history of the Book of Mormon. Most likely, they did.

HH: Okay, so if we have a quarter million descendants at least partially of Jews, Dr. Butler, what is the likelihood of there being DNA traceable Jewish DNA in some of the tribes of current Central America?

JB: Well, I think that kind of goes to...I read the transcript that you had last week with Bill Lobdell, where he says at the end, how could a group of people vanish without a genetic trace, when you're measuring...and again, what you're measuring with the studies that are being done now, are the Y chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA. Y chromosome is passed on from father to son. Mitochondrial DNA is passed on from mother to daughter. So it doesn't capture all of the genetic variation that's within our chromosomes. But, that being said, I believe...and there was a very interesting study a couple of years ago, which makes be believe that I think it is possible for a group to vanish without a genetic trace when you're measuring these types of markers. If I could go through and explain, I'll be happy to do that, or...

HH: Please, please. Take your time. We've got five minutes.

JB: Okay.

HH: We've got lots more than five minutes. We have five minutes to the break.

JB: Okay. In June of 2003, there was an article in the American Journal of Human Genetics, and I can give you the exact reference if you want. But it was published, it's American Journal of Human Genetics, 2003, Vol. 72, Page 1370-1388. And what happened in this article is, most genetic studies that are being done are...with human history tracing human history...involve just a few samples. That may be...a few is relative. That could be hundreds, even thousands of individuals. But you're looking at living individuals and comparing one group of people, let's say Native Americans, to people in Africa or Asia or somewhere else.

HH: Right.

JB: You won't have any detailed knowledge about the genealogy of the individuals being tested.

HH: Right.

JB: It isn't happening. However, in the study that was done in June of 2003, what they did is they used very extensive genealogies from the people of Iceland. And there's a company called DECODE Genetics, which actually has traced and got all the genealogy of the people in Iceland, and actually have the DNA of everybody that lives in Iceland today. And so, in this paper, what they do is they run 131,000 people from Iceland that are born after 1972. Then they go back and they say if we go back in time, 150 years, or 300 years, can we track and find out how many of those ancestors that would have lived then would have their DNA today. So I hope that makes sense to you and to your listeners.

HH: Yes, and so, what was the result?

JB: So this was a very surprising result, because as they examined...they examined the same Y chromosome and mitochondrial markers that are being done in other studies, and these 131,000 individuals that were studied, revealed a highly skewed distribution of descendants to ancestors. And this is a direct quote from the paper. "Within the vast majority of potential ancestors, contributed one or no descendants, and a minority of ancestors, contributed large numbers of descendants." In other words, a majority of people living today in Iceland had ancestors living only 150 years ago, that could not be detected based on their Y chromosome or mitochondrial DNA tests being performed. Yet, of course, they had the genealogical records showing that these people existed, and were their ancestors. So if you take this to the point at hand, if documented ancestors of 150 years ago can't be seen with Y chromosome and mitochondrial tests from modern Iceland, then why would we expect to see large amounts of Middle Eastern DNA from a people that were reported in the Book of Mormon to have migrated to the Americas 2,600 years ago.

HH: And so to use as a novice here, I want to borrow from the war debate, actually. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?

JB: Correct.

HH: And is that what that study proved?

JB: Exactly.

HH: And is there any DNA study, or evidence supporting the account of the Book of Mormon?

JB: Well, even...there are...what's found in all the studies, and there's hundreds of papers that have been published today on the subject, where they've run groups of people from native America, and what they find is that most of the time, there are linkages to haplotypes is what they're called, or haplagroups, that are found in people primarily of Asian origin. So that means either that Native Americans, and of course, this is following the traditional hypothesis that people are modeling this to, is that people traveled across the Bering Strait.

HH: But we're going to break, but I am understanding you say there is actually no
DNA evidence of a previous Jewish tribe from Jerusalem, not implying from that...
JB: But again, part of the problem is, how do you calibrate? What is....what would be the appropriate DNA signature for someone that lived 2,600 years ago in Jerusalem. We don't know that.

HH: But one that you would consider appropriate has not been found?

JB: No.

HH: Alright, when we come back I want to continue the conversation with Dr. Daniel Peterson and ask you Dr. Peterson about other evidences of..... for the Book of Mormon and Dr. Butler, more questions about how tests might, in fact, continue that you would think would be useful. We return...fascinating conversation....I know the phone lines are jammed again, the Emails are pouring in, 1-800-520-1234, connection to the Hugh Hewitt show.....

---------Commercial Break---------

HH: Welcome back America, Hugh Hewitt, joined this segment and next, by a couple of heavy hitters, Dr. John Butler, has a PHD. with the DNA Technologies group at the National Institute for standards and technology, his doctorate of course from the University of Virginia in chemistry analytical and Dr. Daniel Peterson has his PhD. from the University of California at Los Angeles in Near Eastern Languages and cultures.

HH: Dr. Peterson, it is very serendipitous that you are here on this day. I've just got to get your reaction to this. I'm receiving news reports that after the destruction of the 1,200 year old Shiite shrine this morning, in a terrorist attack in Iraq, 90 different Sunni Mosques have been attacked with 19 deaths. I don't know how close this is to your specialty, though you teach in a near Eastern area, how important was this act of terrorism today? And how significant the blowback?

DP: It's hugely significant. It’s was a terrible attack on the Shiites. It's a..It’s an attack on their symbolic heart, on...their piety is really focused on the, on the imams, leaders, the founders of the Shiite tradition. And to have attacked a Mosque like this was deliberately inflammatory. It was designed to drive the Shiites absolutely wild, and apparently, it has.

HH: The tomb, or it’s the place where the imam Mahdi went into hiding, or I'm not quite sure what it is. Can you expand a little bit? Is that within your range?

DP: You know, I haven't heard much of the story today, I confess. I've spent the day in meetings on other topics, and I just heard about it as you were doing the lead-in to your program. So I'm a little embarrassed by that, but I believe you may be talking about the Shrine of the Imam Ali?

HH: Yes. It's the golden shrine in Samara.

DP: Yeah...oh, in Samara?

HH: Yeah.

DP: Ahh. Then I'm less familiar with that one. Yeah a...there are several important Shiite shrines that are central to Shiite ideas of pilgrimage and so on. It's one of the things that bothers the Sunnis, and especially Wahabi-style Sunni Arabs, or excuse me, Sunni Muslims, who really tend to dislike saint veneration and that sort of thing, where Shiites...

HH: Well, I don't want to get too far afield. Maybe we could get you back later this week and go over this with you, Dr. Peterson. Now I'd like to go, and I'll be back to you in a second, Dr. Butler on the DNA stuff. The Book of Mormon has been studied, debated, criticized, debunked, attacked, upheld, died for, martyred over, the subject of persecution for years.

DP: Right.

HH: And now, at BYU, and my old friend Neal Maxwell would tell me, there was research going into the discovery of historical affirmation of its text. What's the strongest bit of evidence that the Church puts forward as validating its story?

DP: Well, I don't think the Church is really in the business of putting forward the evidence, but some of us scholars who are interested in this sort of thing have begun to do it on our own. And the Church doesn't endorse or denounce on the whole what we do or say, so we're left to advocate our own ideas. But here are some things that I see. Now we would say first of all, you're never going to have definitive proof of the Book of Mormon, or anything else really religiously significant, probably. Not in this life. You have to go by spiritual witness on those sorts of things. But, there are...boy, we could go on for this or with this for an hour or more. To me, some of the most impressive things are the testimonies of the witnesses who saw the plates, who remain faithful to their testimony for the rest of their lives, no matter what happened to them.

HH: That's familiar of Christian apologetics...

DP: Right.

HH: ...about the 1st Century martyrs. How about archaeological or anthropological?

DP: Yeah, there are many things. I point, for example, I myself, my background is somewhat of a philological background, so I'm really impressed with the sheer complexity of the text which was dictated at an incredibly rapid pace. It's peppered with what we call Hebraisms or Semiticisms, names that seem to be authentically Hebrew in ways that Joseph Smith couldn't have known, phraseology, Hebrew-style conditional sentences that aren't even good English in the original editions, but are very good classical Hebrew. And Joseph Smith couldn't have known that. He scarcely knew English in the late 1820's. Specifically, pre-exilic symbolism that shows up, that is before the Babylonian captivity.

HH: An example of that, Doctor?

DP: Yeah, in first Nephi 11, one of the earliest chapters in the book, you have an example of the representation of a divine, the mother of the Divine child, Mary, holding the baby Jesus. And she's equated with a tree. Now that's, I think, specifically tying into imagery that would have been familiar to the pre-exilic Hebrews, the authors of those first chapters, where...

HH: Has a structure been discovered, Dr. Peterson, similar to some of the structures of Old Testament and New Testament Bible, that are traced to, say, Jacob's well, or David's escape route? That sort of thing?

DP: Well, you could...our problem in the New World is the archeology is far less developed than in the old. We're talking about the pre-classic period. In most cases, we don't even know the names of the places we're looking at. The ruins are there. It's not that these people disappeared without a trace. It's that we don't know exactly how to recognize the traces. But you do have, in areas where the archeology is a little better, like in the Arabian Peninsula, we have found specific names that show up in the Book of Mormon, and now have been found in the Arabian Peninsula along the route that the Book of Mormon people would have taken. And they date to specifically that period.

HH: I’m coming back with my two experts, that was Dr. Daniel Peterson of...of the um..where are you teaching now....BYU?


HH: And Dr. John Butler of the DNA Technologies group at the National Institute for standards and technology, don’t go anywhere, more conversation and your calls coming up on the Hugh Hewitt show.

--------Commercial Break---------

HH: Welcome back America, Hugh Hewitt, updating the situation in Iraq from the blog, Iraq The Model- President Talabani has promised to make rebuilding of the shrine his personal responsibility-the Head of the Sunni endowment sheikh Ahmed al-Samarra'I announces that he will allocate $1.4 million for rebuilding of the shrine from Sunni endowment.-Huge demonstrations in many of Iraq's provinces tonight where thousands and thousands of people are joining up to condemn the attack.-The top 4 Shia Ayatollahs are meeting at Sistani's home to discuss-The Association of Muslim scholars and the Islamic Party have condemned the "criminal act".-Retaliatory attacks are growing but President Jafari, Prime Minister Jafari is calling for national unity and there are cooler heads attempting to keep the peace in Iraq, more as it develops. I’m joined by Dr. John Butler, project leader in Human Identity DNA Technologies groups, from the National Institute of Standard and Technology, and Dr. Daniel Peterson of the BYU faculty, where he is also deeply involved with the Islamic studies and Arabic department, as well as with the CPART, an effort to preserve ancient religious texts.

HH: Dr. Butler, I'd like to go back to you.

JB: Okay.

HH: What do DNA studies tell us about common human beginnings?

JB: What do they tell us about common human beginnings?

HH: Yeah. How many ancestors are there? Is it a Genesis narrative? Is there any support...or is DNA just off of the religious people's ability to deal with?

JB: Well, what's done traditionally with these human migration studies, which is what you're talking about here, is you make measurements between different groups of people that are living today, and there's a big project going on, the Genographic Project, where they're trying to collect 100,000 samples from various groups around the world, and then use those to try to fit with different models, where the people may have come from.

HH: And is it proving successful?

JB: They're collecting data, and the data, I think, is very interesting. What they do is they collect Y chromosome information, so they collect usually about a dozen different sites on the Y chromosome, and measure these different markers, which give you what's called a haplotype. And they also measure, they sequence little sections of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to daughter. And so you're able to show linkage between different groups. That doesn't show specific groups. Again, genealogically, it just shows general broad, broad strokes of a brush, basically.

HH: And in that research, is there anything to, as the Los Angeles Times put it, shake the foundation of a Mormon's faith?

JB: I don't believe so, because you don't...I mean, it's telling generally what's going on, in terms of history, with lots of assumptions behind that. But again, it's different than what...I work in forensic DNA. That's what I do. I've written the text that's used all over the world in forensic DNA. And so, in forensic DNA, you have basically a chain of custody, where you can trace a link between a DNA profile that's produced, that goes into court, from the original crime scene evidence. And it's a little bit different here, because you don't have that...there's no such chain of custody that exists, certainly for DNA from anybody that may have been in the Book of Mormon, or from any other ancient people. You...what they do...all the published migration studies simply report what the various groups of people living today, if they have various similarities in their DNA. And from there, the scientists then extrapolate and interpret that these various groups must have had ancestors in common, which would lead to similar patters in their descendants.

HH: Now I want...before I go back to Professor Peterson, I also want to ask you about the research scientist, Southerton, quoted in the L.A. Times article. Is he reliable, in your view?

JB: Well, his background, from what I understand, having researched a little bit about what he's published, he's published a couple of articles. He does plant DNA or something. And certainly, he's read up on things that have happened with human DNA, but I’ve published 80 articles with human DNA, work for forensic science, and human identity studies with Y chromosome getting back to your question, I don't think that he sees the picture correctly with how DNA can be done, and primarily because you don't have a calibration point. You don't know...just like in forensic science, you have a suspect and you have evidence. DNA doesn't work in a vacuum. You get a result, you have to compare it to something else. So measuring all of the DNA of people today, you can make some assumptions, but you can't zero in and answer a definitive question about a specific person that lived many thousands of years ago.

HH: So Dr. Peterson, when Southerton says he found no trace of Middle Eastern DNA in the genetic strands of today's American Indians or Pacific Islanders, that does not upset you in the least, or cause you to wonder in the least?

DP: No, not even slightly. I don't expect to find Middle Eastern DNA.

HH: Not in the least?

DP: No, it would be nice if we found it, but if we found it, we'd wonder was this later pollution of the lines, in effect, from times after Columbus? We wouldn't know exactly what it was. And if we did find Semitic DNA, if such a thing can be said to exist, then that wouldn't necessarily prove the Book of Mormon, either.

HH: Alright, let’s go get a couple of calls in...Albert- Indiana...welcome to the program Albert, quick question please....
Albert: Yeah, I joined the Mormon Church about 30 years ago and I’m in the process of conversion to Roman Catholicism, my kids are..

HH: I’ve gotta get a question Albert..quick.

Albert: You know, based on the fact that there is no evidence at all archaeologically or linguistically for The Book of Mormon and now we have the DNA studies, it seems to me that this is just the nail in the coffin.

HH: Alright Dr. Peterson, your response

DP: My response would be um..look I just, you know, I just gave a few pieces of evidence I could go on for an hour or two, in fact I routinely do, um, listing other items of evidence, so to say that there is no linguistic or archaeological evidence for The Book of Mormon is simply untrue and an archaeologist friend of mine, a very eminent archaeologist, Mesoamerican specialist argues that in fact the archaeological evidence, the picture, the overall picture, is now moving strongly in the direction of The book of Mormon in terms of chronological parallels and so on.

HH: I’d like to get him, I’d like to talk to him here at some point. Joe in Tarzana, go ahead, be quick Joe.

Joe: Thank you guys for this show said that there is no chain of custody for the DNA and that’s like, like kind of prima facia obvious but um isn’t the assertion of the Mormon Church or Joseph Smith, that these people are descendants of the middle east, isn’t that the chain of custody?

HH: Joe, thank you for the question, let’s go to you Dr. Butler

JB: Yes, yes that is the assertion, that the people today are descendants, but I made the point earlier that you can loose a genetic signature based on dilution over time and loss and I illustrated that through that one paper that was published, a very interesting paper, but more importantly, we don’t know what the genetic signature would..would look like from someone that lived that long ago and so we have no calibration point so we don’t have anything you can scientifically test.

HH: Dr. John Butler of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, Dr. Daniel Peterson, thanks for staying up late on the East Coast, Dr. Butler, and in Utah, Dr. Peterson. I appreciate your spending the time and getting equal time in, and we'll do it again. And send me the archaeologist thing. I'm fascinated by it. I just gotta go back to the news, Dr. and Dr., thank you, it is the Hugh Hewitt show. Coming right back.

This is Simon Southerton's "official response" to John Butler's comments on FARMS. Simon's comments are in brackets and highlighted red:

By John M. Butler-

On February 16, 2006 the Los Angeles Times ran a front page article questioning the authenticity of the Book of Mormon based on studies of human DNA. Citing DNA "evidence" that suggests an Asian ancestry for people native to the Americas, critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have for the past several years claimed these DNA studies demonstrate that the Book of Mormon account of a group of colonists coming from the Middle East in 600 B.C. cannot be authentic.

The following article briefly addresses questions surrounding the applicability of DNA studies to the peoples whose story is told in the Book of Mormon. The author, John M. Butler, holds a doctoral degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia and is the author of 80 research articles and book chapters on human DNA including ones on Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA as applied to human identity testing. He has received a number of awards in the field of forensic genetics and is the author of the award-winning textbook Forensic DNA Typing, now in its second edition. In July 2002, Dr. Butler received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President George W. Bush in a White House ceremony for his work in pioneering modern forensic DNA testing.

Dr. Butler is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has served for the past four years as the bishop of the Gaithersburg First Ward, Seneca Maryland Stake (near Washington, D.C.). He is currently employed as a research chemist in the Biochemical Science Division at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, where he directs a project team developing new DNA technologies for forensic and human identity applications.


What is DNA?

Our cells contain a genetic code known as deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. It provides a blueprint for life, determining to a great extent our physical attributes and appearance. We inherit half of our genetic code from our mother and half from our father. The diversity we see among people results from unique combinations of nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA that exist in every living organism. Because of the many different ways these nucleotides can combine, all humans, with the exception of identical twins, differ from each other on a genetic level.

How are DNA ancestry studies performed?

Examining the DNA of an individual and comparing it with the DNA of close relatives can reveal the source of different genetic patterns contributed by parents, grandparents, or other shared ancestors. Genetic markers on the Y-chromosome that are transferred exclusively from father to son are used to examine paternal lineages, while maternal lines are traced by analyzing genetic material called mitochondrial DNA, which is only transferred from mother to offspring.

How do DNA ancestry studies compare to forensic DNA testing used in court cases?

The information derived from any DNA analysis does not work in a vacuum. Test results always compare genetic information from a source in question with the same type of information from a known source. In the case of forensic DNA testing that is widely accepted in courts of law, DNA from a suspected criminal is compared with DNA collected from the scene of a crime. When the DNA matches at the regions examined, then it are likely that the suspect was indeed the person who was involved in the crime. In forensic DNA testing there is a one-to-one correlation of DNA results—the individual's DNA matches the evidence.

In ancestry studies, DNA information from multiple modern population groups is projected over many generations between populations tested. Even though the same genetic markers may be used as in forensic DNA testing, there is usually not a one-to-one unique match being made in ancestry testing. Instead, scientists are often guessing at what genetic signatures existed in the past based on various assumptions—with a bit of educated "story telling" to fill in gaps.2 These stories of human migration patterns are constantly being refined with new genetic research. As noted by John Relethford in his book Genetics and the Search for Modern Human Origins, "Although working in such a young and developing field is exciting, it is also frightening because the knowledge base changes so rapidly".3 Since the methods for examining DNA in this way are far from perfected, drawing final conclusions about the ancestry of a people from current data would not be prudent. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that reference samples are always needed to provide relevant results with any kind of DNA testing. If a reliable reference is not available, confident conclusions cannot be made.

[Butler claims that “reference samples” of DNA, presumably of Israelites who lived in Jerusalem 2,600 years ago, are required to provide a “calibration point” with which to compare the DNA of living Amerindians. Without this he believes that scientists would be “guessing” or “story telling” to fill in the gaps in a populations ancestry. It is absurd to suggest that scientists would need Lehite and Mulekite DNA from 2600 years ago in order to provide a calibration point for DNA research. LDS apologists have already conceded that DNA research has revealed that American Indians are essentially all descended from Asian ancestors. 1 But DNA studies have not yet been carried out on ancient remains of Asians, or American Indians, that predate the migrations to the New World. Even Butler himself is persuaded “that almost all Native Americans tested thus far possess genetic signatures closely resembling modern-day Asians” in spite of the missing calibration point.

One of the attractions of working with DNA is that it carries its own history within its sequence. People who are related to each other carry DNA that shares common spelling changes that that have accumulated throughout time. While it can happen, it is uncommon for these spelling changes disappear. Anthropologists don’t need an ancient DNA sample to confirm relatedness because related DNA lineages by definition share common DNA spelling changes that occurred in their ancestors. These informative DNA spellings are rarely lost over the generations; rather they are inherited down the generations.

Butler appears to be confusing forensic applications of DNA technology with its use in human population genetics. Forensic scientists match individuals to individuals and must get an exact match in DNA samples at many if not all locations in a DNA sequence. This level of evidence is necessary in criminal and other legal proceedings. Molecular anthropologists are not trying to locate an individual’s ancestors; they are generally trying to identify related populations. They focus on a small number of informative spelling changes that define different ethnic groups. All human maternal DNA lineages fall into 25 major DNA lineage families. When greater than 99.6% of the DNA lineages of Native Americans most closely resemble DNA lineages found among Asians this is compelling evidence that they have a common ancestor; evidence sufficiently compelling to convince even LDS apologists.]

What current data exist on Native American DNA?

To date there have been more than 100 scientific articles describing the examination of DNA from thousands of modern-day Native Americans. These studies have shown that almost all Native Americans tested thus far possess genetic signatures closely resembling modern-day Asians and thus conclusions are usually drawn that these populations are related to one another. Since no Israelite genetic connection has yet been made with Native Americans, critics of the Book of Mormon are quick to point out that this information seems to contradict a statement made in the modern introduction to the book that the Lamanites are "the principal ancestors of the American Indians."

[Butler implies by these statements that critics of the Book of Mormon link Native Americans with the Lamanites entirely on the basis of “the principal ancestors” statement in the “modern” introduction to the book. This is a gross misrepresentation. Butler totally ignores generations of doctrinal and prophetic support for the widespread beliefs Mormons hold that happen to be in complete harmony with the introductory statement in the Book of Mormon.

For the record, church leaders and the God speaking to Joseph Smith have declared explicitly who the Lamanites are:

We also bare testimony that the "Indians" (so called) of North and South America are a remnant of the tribes of Israel; as is now made manifest by the discovery and revelation of their ancient oracles and records.
Proclamation of the twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . .April, 1845.

Must we, because we believe in . . the Book of Mormon as the history of the aborigines of this continent, must we be expelled from the institutions of our country?
Joseph Smith, Appeal to the Freemen of the State of Vermont, the "Brave Green Mountain Boys", and Honest Men . . .December, 1843.

In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell into battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. Joseph Smith - Letter to John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat 1842.

Joseph Smith – History 1: 34 He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;

D&C 28: 8
And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.

D&C 28: 9
And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.

D&C 28: 14
And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites.

D&C 30: 6
And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites;

D&C 32: 2
And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites.

D&C 49: 24
But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose.

D&C 54: 8
And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.

The belief that Native Americans throughout North, Central and South America (and Polynesia) are the descendants of the Lamanites is not simply based on one unofficial statement in the introduction to the Book of Mormon. This belief is deeply embedded in the LDS church and has had a major influence on the way the Church has interacted with native peoples in the Americas and the Pacific for well over a century. For most of the last 175 years, the Book of Mormon has been presented to native people as a history of their ancestors and, as such, has frequently played a major role in their conversion. For many decades, members have been reassured by successive prophets and apostles that they are the children of Lehi. Frequently, these reminders are delivered during regional, area, and stake conferences and during the dedicatory prayers at temples in areas with predominant indigenous American and Pacific cultures. The Church has invested heavily in schools in what have been thought of as Lamanite regions, particularly in Polynesia. Many Native American and Polynesian members of the Church have received patriarchal blessings in which they have been told they belong to the tribe of Manasseh, the same tribe as Lehi. It is not simply a matter of an “overbelief” in a non-doctrinal portion of modern day Books of Mormon. It is a belief that is deeply entrenched in the church with strong doctrinal foundations in scripture and prophetic authority.]

What do we know about the genetic background of Book of Mormon peoples?

The angel Moroni informed the Prophet Joseph Smith during his first visit on the evening of 21 September 1823 that the Book of Mormon record gave "an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang" (Joseph Smith—History 1:34). The Book of Mormon mentions three different groups that journeyed to the New World: the Lehites (1 Nephi 18), the Jaredites (Ether 6:12), and the Mulekites (Helaman 6:10; 8:21), sometimes referred to as the people of Zarahemla (Omni 1:14–16; Alma 22:30).

The title page of the Book of Mormon proclaims that the Lamanites are a remnant of the house of Israel. Lehi found on the plates of brass recovered from Laban a genealogy of his fathers where he learned that he was a descendant of Joseph (1 Nephi 5:14), specifically from the tribe of Manasseh (Alma 10:3). Mulek is mentioned in Helaman 8:21 as a son of Zedekiah who was king of Judah when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:7). The Jaredites descended from multiple families who were led by the Lord from the Tower of Babel to the Promised Land (Ether 1:33).

The prophets, who contributed to the Book of Mormon record with a focus on religious teaching rather than geographical or genetic details, provide only a partial picture of the events of their days and usually within the confines of their family lineage. Thus, the Book of Mormon record does not supply sufficient information to provide a reliable calibration point in the past which may serve as a reference for modern day DNA comparisons. DNA information alone therefore cannot disprove the Book of Mormon.

[The Book of Mormon is remarkably specific about the ancestry of Lehi and Mulek and their associates. We know they were Israelites who lived in Jerusalem. Israelite DNA lineages belong to the same family groups found in European populations: the H, I, J, K, N, T, U, V, W and X groups. Essentially all Europeans and Israelites possess one of these lineages; however the frequencies of these lineages differ between the two groups. Other Middle Eastern populations such as the Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese and other Arabic groups also have similar mitochondrial DNA lineages belonging to these families. There is a smattering (<0.4%)>

Could other people have lived in ancient America concurrently with Book of Mormon peoples? Careful examination and demographic analysis of the Book of Mormon record in terms of population growth and the number of people described implies that other groups were likely present in the promised land when Lehi's family arrived, and these groups may have genetically mixed with the Nephites, Lamanites, and other groups.4 Events related in the Book of Mormon likely took place in a limited region,5 leaving plenty of room for other Native American peoples to have existed.

[The fact that FARMS apologists needed to ask the question “Could other people have lived concurrently with Book of Mormon people?” is evidence enough that the Book of Mormon is silent on the issue. Virtually nobody outside of the apologetic community appears to have read the Book of Mormon carefully enough to notice reference to the hoards of other people apologists claim are mentioned in the text. American Indians not only could have lived in ancient America, between 2000BC and 400AD, they definitely lived in the Americas during that period and for at least 10,000 years prior to that time period. What is unclear is whether Book of Mormon people existed at all, and all reliable evidence to date provides no concrete support for their existence.]

Does DNA testing of modern individuals detect all previous genetic lineages? Another way to state this question is "could a group of people vanish without a genetic trace as measured by Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA testing yet be the ancestors of someone living today?" It is important to realize that examination of Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA genetic markers permits only a small fraction of an individual's ancestry to be tracked. Most genetic analysis studies of human history involve comparing a group of samples of living individuals to another group of living individuals without any detailed knowledge of the genealogy of the individuals in the groups being tested. These types of DNA studies make assumptions about the average time for each generation in the past along with a fixed mutation rate whereby genetic variation may occur over time. Similarities in the modern populations examined are then used to claim a shared origin between the two populations with an estimated time for divergence between the populations. An interesting study reported in the June 2003 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics leads me to believe that it is possible for Book of Mormon peoples to be ancestors of modern Native Americans and yet not be easily detected using traditional Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests. This study, conducted by a group of scientists from a company called deCODE Genetics, used the extensive genealogies of people from Iceland combined with probably the most massive population study ever performed.6 They traced the matrilineal and patrilineal ancestry of all 131,060 Icelanders born after 1972 back to two cohorts of ancestors, one born between 1848 and 1892 and the other between 1798 and 1742. Examining the same Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA markers used in other genetic studies, these 131,060 Icelanders revealed highly skewed distributions of descendants to ancestors, with the vast majority of potential ancestors contributing one or no descendants and a minority of ancestors contributing large numbers of descendants.6 In other words, the majority of people living today in Iceland had ancestors living only 150 years ago that could not be detected based on the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests being performed yet the genealogical records exist showing that these people lived and were real ancestors. To the point at hand, if many documented ancestors of 150 years ago cannot be seen with Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests from modern Iceland, then the possibility can exist for people that are reported in the Book of Mormon to have migrated to the Americas over 2600 years ago and yet not have detectable genetic signatures today.

[Butler states that the results of the Helgason study meant that “the majority of people living today in Iceland had ancestors living only 150 years ago that could not be detected based on the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests.” What the Iceland study in fact revealed, by linking DNA genealogies with written genealogies, was that most of the people living in Iceland in the eighteenth century have few or no living descendants. The problem in Iceland was not detecting ancestors, it was detecting descendants of most of the people living 250 years ago. For example, Helgason et al. (2003) used Iceland’s extensive genealogical records to determine that 64,150 living female Icelanders were born after 1972 and that there were about 20,443 females born in Iceland between 1698 and 1742. Mitochondrial DNA tests on the living women revealed that 61.8% of them are descended from just 6.6% of women living in the early eighteenth century. Similar results were obtained for males. How could it be that most of the people living in Iceland in the eighteenth century have few or no living descendants? This remarkably high rate of failure of Icelanders living in the early 1700’s to leave descendants was surprising to the authors of the paper. This considerable “genetic drift” they say, occurred in spite of rapid population expansion during the last 300 years. This is the only information that the authors give about Iceland’s population history in this paper. There is, however, much in Iceland’s population history that the authors did not mention. For the first century of those 300 years, from 1701 to 1803, Iceland’s population actually declined from 50,358 to 47,240 due to severe economic hardships.2 Most of Iceland’s population were farm labourers and frequently the poor never married or raised families because it was considered improper for labourers to “fill the earth with ‘weaklings’”.3 In 1783, one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the last 12,000 years rocked Iceland. Mount Laki erupted, killing tens of thousand of cattle and horses and hundreds of thousands of sheep. Between one quarter and a third of the population perished due to fluorine poisoning and smallpox. Between 1870 and 1914, 20% of Iceland’s population emigrated to North America. Since 1914, emigrants have typically outnumbered immigrants. Emigrant groups are likely to have been dominated by younger individuals of reproductive age. The combination of drastic population declines in the eighteenth century due to harsh environmental and economic conditions followed by large-scale emigration during the nineteenth and early twentieth century will have had a dramatic impact on the genetic landscape of Iceland. Many of the descendants of the 50,358 people living in Iceland in 1701 are likely to have died without leaving offspring. Of those who did leave descendants, many may have migrated to North America and their descendants are essentially invisible in the Icelandic studies. Iceland has always been a marginal place for human occupation with its arctic climate and volcanic activity, in contrast to the Promised Land of the Book of Mormon where crops thrived and wildlife and precious metals were found in abundance (1 Ne. 18:24-25). There are also few similarities between the population history of Iceland and the history of the Lehites and Mulekites described in the Book of Mormon. Nephi saw a vision of the New World in about 600 BC in which he saw that his “seed” and “the seed of [his] brethren” had multiplied until they did “number as many as the sand of the sea” (1 Ne. 12:1). Numerous scriptures throughout the Book of Mormon detail the fulfilment of this prophecy. In 588 BC the Lehite populations were prospering “exceedingly” and “multiplying” in the land (2 Ne. 5:13) and by 399 BC they had “multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land” (Jarom 1:8). When the descendants of Mulek join the Nephites, we are informed that they were “exceedingly numerous” (Omni 1:17). By about 124 BC there were so many people in the Book of Mormon civilizations that they couldn’t number them because they had “multiplied exceedingly and waxed great in the land” (Mosiah 2:2). By about 46 BC they had spread until they “covered the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east (Hel. 3:8). The argument that Lamanite DNA may have gone extinct relies entirely on the belief that American Indians swamped Amerisraelite populations soon after their arrival. These scriptures imply the opposite. The descendants of the Lehites and Mulekites were not a minor group of people swallowed up by surrounding Native Americans. They formed substantial populations that were ruled over by Lehi’s descendants. Are we to believe that these populations were largely comprised of American Indians who swamped out the Israelite genes yet didn’t assume any significant influence in these civilizations? The Icelandic research is of relevance when considering the extinction of DNA lineages of small groups of individuals in a population. DNA lineages can and do go extinct but the DNA lineages of a population generally don’t. This is even revealed in the Icelandic example. When we compare the proportions of European DNA lineages present in living Icelanders, it is very similar to the proportions present in the ancestral population and none of the lineages went extinct.]

Shouldn't we be able to detect Israelite DNA if the Lamanites are descended from Lehi and are the principal ancestors to modern-day Native Americans? First, as discussed above, we do not have enough information from the Book of Mormon to confidently determine a source population for the Lehites or Mulekites, and so we cannot compare this population with modern-day Native American results.

[The suggestion that we have no calibration point, and hence no knowledge of what Lehi and Mulek’s DNA would look like is groundless. As mentioned earlier, Israelite and Middle Eastern DNA lineages are quite well characterised. To date there is no evidence for the presence of Middle Eastern DNA in American Indians.]

Another point to consider is that present-day Native Americans represent only a fraction of previous genetic lineages in the Americas because of large-scale death by diseases brought to the New World by European conquerors. As researcher Michael Crawford concludes in his book The Origins of Native Americans: Evidence from Anthropological Genetics, "This population reduction has forever altered the genetics of the surviving groups, thus complicating any attempts at reconstructing the pre-Columbian genetic structure of most New World groups."7 Again without reliable reference samples from the past we cannot proclaim the Book of Mormon true or false based on DNA data.

[Are we to assume that the Lamanites were less fit than native populations? Since the Lehites and Mulekites carried their genes from the Old World, they are likely to have carried more, rather than less resistance to Old World diseases than American Indians.]

In forensic science, a documented "chain of custody" is crucial to verifying a link between the DNA profile produced in the lab with the original crime scene evidence. No such "chain of custody" exists with DNA or genealogical records connecting people from Book of Mormon times to people living today. Part of the problem in this whole contrived controversy is the over-simplification of results from DNA studies that are being conducted by scientists in an effort to examine potential patterns of human migration throughout ancient history. The impact of this over-simplification is in many ways similar to the impact that the popular TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has had over the past few years on forensic laboratories. In the name of entertainment, the CSI television shows have created a perception where the general public now thinks that forensic scientists go to crime scenes, work in fancy and well-equipped laboratories, question suspects in a case, and obtain conclusive results on every complex case in a matter of a few minutes. The truth is that scientists work in poorly supplied labs, are underpaid, and in many situations have large backlogs of samples that prevent rapid response to new individual cases. In addition, forensic scientists never interrogate the suspects of a crime and many cases are never solved. The public perception of CSI has now created an expectation in many juries that DNA evidence should be present in every case. Even with this over-simplification of its portrayal of forensic laboratories, there is some truth within the CSI movie sets. For example, the instruments on the TV show are real. However, they do not collect data and generate results as rapidly as portrayed nor are complex cases solved so succinctly. Likewise, oversimplification of DNA results and what they are capable of revealing in examining the authenticity of the Book of Mormon has been greatly exaggerated by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the many reasons stated above, DNA testing results from modern Native Americans do not negate the possibility of Book of Mormon peoples having existed anciently on the American continent.

[Accredited DNA testing facilities are required by law to follow Chain of Custody documentation procedures to ensure results will be legally admissible (accepted by courts and other government agencies). Chain of Custody requires that: Samples are collected by an impartial third party, such as a clinic or laboratory. The individuals tested are positively identified (i.e.they posses government-issued ID, and they are photographed and fingerprinted for records.). The samples are carefully tracked and matched to each test participant throughout the entire DNA testing process. Are we to believe that DNA studies would only be of value if we had positively identified remains of a Lamanite? Is Butler suggesting that molecular anthropologists are often shoddy in their research practices and that they may have got their results mixed up? There are several important factors that are powerful motivators for scientists to be particularly careful in their research procedures. The major driver is that other scientists may try to replicate their work. Falsified results are difficult to replicate. While careless research and even fraud does occur among scientists, it is the rare exception rather than the rule.]

Can science ever provide a final answer to a religious question? Today's society is impatient and wants quick and easy answers to everything. In science we make measurements and conduct studies hoping to advance knowledge. As an active DNA researcher for the past 13 years, I can affirm that we are uncovering new information with each passing year that gives us a better picture of the past and the present. But we must remember that that picture is in no way complete or comprehensive. Science can demonstrate that certain assumptions are unlikely, but it cannot prove that testimonies are false. I believe that science and religion can co-exist as long as we remember that each measures different things (see Isaiah 55:8-9 and 1 Corinthians 2). The definitive proof of the Book of Mormon's authenticity comes in the Lord's laboratory of spiritual revelation by following the formula laid out in Moroni 10:3–5.8

[People have been waiting for 175 years for credible scientific evidence of any description to support the historical claims of the Book of Mormon. How long do we need to wait to prove we are patient? With each passing year new information sheds more light on the colonization of the Americas and with each year we find the claims of the Book of Mormon being shrunk by LDS apologists. Many Mormons have a testimony that Native Americans are largely descended from Israelites as a consequence of believing the Book of Mormon. Feeling-based beliefs are far less reliable than Mormons would care to admit and science has proven that these beliefs have no basis in fact. Joseph Smith is the source of the Book of Mormon as well as the source of the miraculous feeling-based formula that is supposed to prove beyond a doubt it is true. If the Book of Mormon has no place in reality could there also be a flaw in his feeling-based truth formula? I believe that faith can flourish when people are told the truth from whatever and all available sources. It makes no sense to insist on a belief in the unbelievable. There is an important difference here. In my case, for thirty years my religious orientation was accompanied by a distorted understanding of the true history of America’s past. Not only did I know little of the science that was applicable to this issue, I, like many Mormons, had been bombarded with the widespread urban legends in the church. BYU scholars always seemed to be finding archaeological evidence in Mesoamerica that supported the Book of Mormon and I was informed that the Smithsonian Institution had used the Book of Mormon as a guide in some of their research. Scientific truth exposed my faith in a book that has no historical connection with the ancestors of the American Indians or Polynesians.]

Notes *Points of view expressed here are those of the author and in no way reflect the official opinion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the U.S. Department of Commerce or National Institute of Standards and Technology. 1. See Butler, J.M. Forensic DNA Typing: Biology, Technology, and Genetics of STR Markers (2nd Edition), Elsevier: New York (2005). 2. Goldstein, D.B. and Chikhi, L. "Human migrations and population structure: what we know and why it matters" Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics 3:129-152 (2002); see quotation on p. 143. 3. Relethford, J.H. Genetics and the Search for Modern Human Origins. Wiley-Liss: New York (2001); quotation from p. 205. 4. See Sorenson, J.L. "When Lehi's party arrived in the land, did they find others there?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1:1–34 (1992). 5. See Sorenson, J.L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Deseret Book: Salt Lake City (1985). 6. Helgason, A., Hrafnkelsson, B., Gulcher, J.R., Ward, R., Stefansson, K. "A population-wide coalescent analysis of Icelandic matrilineal and patrilineal genealogies: evidence for a faster evolutionary rate of mtDNA lineages than Y chromosomes." American Journal of Human Genetics 72: 1370-1388 (2003). 7. Crawford, M.H. The Origins of Native Americans: Evidence from Anthropological Genetics. Cambridge University Press: New York (1998); quotation from p. 261. 8. See Butler, J.M. "A few thoughts from a believing DNA scientist" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12(1): 36-37 (2003). 1 See Dean H. Leavitt, Jonathon C. Marshall, and Keith A. Crandall, “The Search for the Seed of Lehi: How Defining Alternative Models Helps in the Interpretation of Genetic Data,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36 (Winter 2003): 133–50; D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens “Who Are the Children of Lehi?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12 (2003): 38–51; David A. McClellan “Detecting Lehi’s Genetic Signature: Possible, Probable, or Not?” FARMS Review 15 (2003): 35-90; and Michael F. Whiting, “DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12 (2003): 24-35. Ryan Parr “Missing the Boat to Ancient America … Just Plain Missing the Boat,” FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 83-106. 2 Iceland. (2006). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 6, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online 3 The Arts faculty of the University of Manitoba has historical information about the immigration of Icelanders to Manitoba. See

Again, here is the link to the LA Times article "Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted."

Samuel the Utahnite


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